Opponents Prepare for Tuesday Meeting As City Plans to Move Notorious Homeless Shelter One Block Away


Marlon Moctezuma, a resident of The Alexander, says the imminent placement of a homeless shelter in the building is “very stressful.”

By Carol Tannenhauser

The city is planning to put a 220-bed homeless shelter on a block on the Upper West Side that already has two facilities offering social services to vulnerable people. One provides permanent supportive housing for people who need services, including those who are formerly homeless and/or mentally ill. The other offers emergency shelter for people displaced by fires or other catastrophes. Both are SRO (Single Room Occupancy) buildings.

Aaron Biller, president of Neighborhood in the 90s, a local advocacy group, believes that siting a homeless shelter in The Alexander, an SRO at 308 West 94th Street, between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, will “tilt the balance on the block” and violate a promise made by Mayor de Blasio in a 2016 homelessness report, which said, ‘Shelters will have a more equitable distribution across the five boroughs.’”

It is important to note that the SROs mentioned above are not “shelters,” which are transitional and meant to help homeless people reach the first rung of the permanent housing ladder: supportive housing. Once there, tenants have leases and keys, along with onsite social services. “Adding a shelter for homeless adult families to the mix doesn’t serve them or the other residents of the block well,” Biller said.


Signs posted at the entrance to a temporary shelter for displaced people on the same block as The Alexander.

None will be more affected than the “five or so” tenants of the building who have refused to move out. One of them, Marlon Moctezuma, 37, has lived in The Alexander since he was seven years old. He called the situation “very stressful.”

“I found out it was happening from an article in an online neighborhood newspaper,” he said, standing in the vestibule. It is a beautiful old building, with the words, “The Alexander,” chiseled in the pink stone above the door. Biller said the owner, Alexander Scharf, had the inscription added after he bought the building. “Then, we got a letter,” Moctezuma continued, “and the building manager told us, and that was it.”

The opening of a shelter on West 94th Street coincides with the closing of one on West 95th. After six years of controversy and complaints, Freedom House, at 330 West 95th Street, between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive, will be shuttered and its service provider replaced with a new one at The Alexander. If all goes according to plan, the change will be completed by the end of the year.

Aaron Biller is not happy with the plan, to say the least. He is mobilizing the neighborhood to protest it, saying the block already has its “fair share” of facilities, and the shelter should be located elsewhere. On October 18th, he brought about fifty people to a public hearing on the contract for the shelter, all going on record against it. He predicts that “hundreds” will do the same at the next Full Community Board 7 Meeting, to be held this Tuesday. If elected officials aren’t swayed to intervene, Biller suggested there could be a lawsuit.

Local City Council Member Helen Rosenthal tentatively supports the plan. “There will be no net gain of shelter residents in the area,” she explained, in an email to WSR. “Rather, a shelter is moving to another location, and we are cautiously optimistic that this will be a much better situation. We have heard very good things about the new provider from other Council districts.

“Yes, there are still residents living in the new site for the shelter,” she acknowledged. “The Department of Homeless Services (DHS) is working with them, and they have the option of switching apartments within the building if they wish to.”

As of yet, Moctezuma has not been offered that option, nor does he understand what it would accomplish.

“Like so many residents, I have been extremely concerned about public safety issues at Freedom House for years,” Council Member Rosenthal continued. “I remain cautiously optimistic that this new facility on West 94th – with a new provider, who has performed well in other parts of the city, and a more appropriate physical space – will be far better able to serve its residents. And if the residents are well served, they will interact positively with our community. I will be keeping a very close eye on the new location and provider as the move goes forward. We’re not going to comment about what Aaron is saying or doing, but we really do think this project should be given a chance.“

“Helen Rosenthal has thrown the community under the bus,” Biller stated, flatly.

Tuesday’s CB7 Meeting promises to be lively. Biller hopes the Board will pass a resolution against the siting of a shelter in The Alexander. If you have an opinion or interest, the meeting will be held on December 4th, at Mount Sinai West, 1000 10th Avenue, at 59th Street. All are invited to speak during the “public session” of the meeting, which will begin at 6:30 PM.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 47 comments | permalink
    1. LESLIE KAMINOFF says:

      Please correct the date of the meeting in this article. It is on DECEMBER 4th, not October.

    2. Elken Zimnerman says:

      Helen Rosenthals assurances are useless
      Ms Rosentgat and the community kept an eye on the previous shelter and it failed miserably
      The city plans to give the new shelter 5 1/2 years
      This is unacceptable If Ms Rosenthal was aware of conditions in this part of the West side she would know that the best solution is to move the shelter to a neighborhood closer to where it’s occupants actually come from which woukd be consistent with the mayors plan
      As a Central Park west resident Rosenthal has no clue what it is like to live with 3 facililities on a block and apparently she doesn’t care either

      • MJ says:

        Helen Rosenthal. Does. Not. Care.

        She doesn’t care about vacant stores, she doesn’t care about overdevelopment, she doesn’t care about homeless shelters and she doesn’t care about school rezoning.

        Remember that at your next election.

        • Frank says:

          She doesn’t care – you’re right.

          Over her watch the streets have gotten worse with trash; it takes community groups to volunteer to clean parks; she didn’t fight to save local schools for local residents and now she’s fine experimenting on our community with this shelter.

          We need to vote her out. I hope we have a moderate candidate in the next election cycle that will fight for UWS residents and defend the high taxes we pay to this city.

      • dannyboy says:

        Can West 94 Street close the border with West 95 Street?

        Giving it their best though.

        And…then send ’em back to where they came from (“the best solution is to move the shelter to a neighborhood closer to where it’s occupants actually come from”).

        But wait a second, they “come from” 95 Street.

        • Rob G. says:

          No, they didn’t. They were brought there from other neighborhoods as an “emergency“ measure and iit was supposed to be temporary. By the way, it resulted in the removal of the original long-term SRO tenants, who were either forced out by the landlord, or left as their living situation deteriorated within the building. All of this happened, and still continues to happen, against the will of the community. Know your history, Dannyboy.

          • dannyboy says:

            Rob G,

            I understand that you are from the “send ’em back” group.

            I’m wondering where so many suddenly came up with that phrase.

        • Bruce E. Bernstein says:

          i don’t recall “long term SRO” tenants being forced out.

          The building was a youth-hostel type of hotel immediately before it became a homeless shelter.

          there are still former long term residents in the building next door, which is Veterans supportive housing.

    3. Chrigid says:

      Why can’t the new operator take over Freedom House? Real estate deal?

    4. Belize says:

      So sorry for the citizens on that block! Rapes, harassment, loitering to follow….hope the NYPD serving that area will stay alert and help you folks.

      • dannyboy says:

        “So sorry for the citizens on that block! Rapes, harassment, loitering to follow….”

        …and the caravan is coming!

    5. Scott says:

      This sounds like an ingenious way to get the rent-controlled and rent stabilized tenants out. I’d like to know what the city will pay per month to keep these homeless housed.

    6. Lewis Sternberg says:

      Typical of U.W.S. liberals. Help those in need (just not on my block!). I say this as a long-time, liberal, U.W.S. resident. We should be ashamed of ourselves.

      • David says:

        Yes, indeed you should! But as a self confessed UWS liberal, who should know better about your foibles? A clear case of the chickens coming home to roost! Enjoy!

    7. Joan says:

      The community north of West 100 Street between Amsterdam and CPW has an unfair shares of shelters and supportive housing. in order to share the responsibility of hosting a true diversity of housing opportunities such facilities should be considered between RSD, West End and Broadway……north of West 100. The lower 90s has had so many shelters over the years as well as the Manhattan Valley community. This has been a decades long conversation on the Upper West Side and it is time that such services being dispersed equally within CB 7.

      • josh fogel says:

        In what buildings? Most buildings between 100th and 110th to the west of Broadway are coop or privately-owned with long-term residents. What you are proposing is eminent domain, and that ain’t happening..

    8. Sherman says:

      Can anyone come up with a single example anywhere in the city in which the residents of a homeless shelter “interact positively” with the community?

      Every time a new homeless shelter is opened the politicians always claim this time it will be different, there’s better management, the homeless are not dangerous……

      Perhaps Helen Rosenthal should open a homeless shelter on the street she lives on.

    9. robert says:

      I would not say ashamed at all. Its just a case of the chickens coming home to roost. For years the UWS has open asked for and received more than its fair share of this. Under the NYC “Fair Share” law one particular area can not be forced to have more its fair share of certain facilities. Surprise when a facility was in the offing say in Brooklyn Heights the elected there were more than happy to fight it and the UWS would accept it, for example. We pasted the tipping point a long time ago, this just people that were willing to help others standing up for themselves and their community.

      This is not just isolated on the UWS. Remember when de Balz announced he wanted to close Rikers island? The UWS and our elected’s cheered to the sky how great it was for our progressive city. They obviously didn’t read the whole press release , yes he said close Rikers, but EACH borough would get a new prison built to house their share of the inmates. 125 street was looked at as well as the current site of the Bus barn on Broadway and 129 (I think that the right cross street) as well as other sites in Manhattan. They finally announced “rebuilding” an existing building in lower Manhattan near the courts. People including our elected’s suddenly were up in arms. About a week that site was quietly shelved – the question is were are they going to put over a thousand inmates in Manhattan.
      And for those that say we should accept it pls call the Mayors office asap and tell them you want it built right next door to your home or your children’s school. Just food for thought.

      • TeachNYC says:

        I would have no problem with this if these citizens were being supported with the interventions they so desperately need. Our end of the neighborhood is a gauntlet of panhandling, harassment, screaming and yelling, being followed and inappropriate gestures.

        • dannyboy says:

          So you’re just advocating for improved support services.

          For a second there, I thought that you might be smearing your neighbors with some kinda’ broad brush.

          But that couldn’t be the case, as I see you are involved with Teaching, and must therefore are necessarily very sensitive to the needs of our homeless children.

    10. KJ -- Tulsa says:

      As a homeless person that knows what it’s like to be shunned by the community. Shame on you.

      Not all homeless people are mental.

      Wonder what’s in their closets?!

    11. Not Happy says:

      Yes…
      We have The Baby Mama Drama Hotel on our block and it’s disgusting,,,

    12. Truth says:

      The “advocacy group” Neighborhood in the 90’s” seems to be one person sitting alone in their studio apartment with a fax machine sending out nonsense to anyone who will listen.

      • jason smith says:

        I cannot validate who participates in the actual organization, but as a resident of the 90’s I can validate a shared concern among market rate neighbors that the density of shelters in all their form has a daily almost palpable presence across the neighborhood.

        Sure we are likely more “liberal” and accepting than many places however it is difficult to not feel and witness the impacts that the quantity of shelters have on the neighborhood.

        An organization or voice that takes that on that condition certainly has people who listen.

        • dannyboy says:

          “”Sure we are likely more “liberal” and accepting than many places”

          jason, I love the way you peppered that into your comment expressing intolerance of your neighbors!

    13. Rob G. says:

      The City not only treats residents of the northern Upper West Side like idiots, they also know we don’t have the balls to organize and fight these shelters. Therefore the game of whack-a-mole continues. Helen Rosenthal‘s uselessness continues where Gale Brewer’s left off.

    14. Idrissa M Morales says:

      DHS doesn’t want to help me even after a former dhs employer violated my rights. He is now in jail yet I’m still homeless and dhs doesn’t feel like they don’t need to address the matter I even had the assistance district attorney reach out to them as well and nothing is getting done.

    15. Susan says:

      The UWS has the most SROs in the city. Why is this the place that again has to bear the burden of another one? There are also two on 97th between Riverside and West End Avenue.

      Why doesn’t Columbus or CPW ever get any of these?

    16. dannyboy says:

      I am trying my best to understand the suffering that homeless people who find housing cause.

      Is it that the street is no longer Private?

      Are you the real victims?

    17. Ben says:

      10 years ago, everyone called Aaron Biller a “Nimby” for his views. By 2012, NOBODY was accusing him of nimbyism. Everyone realised that these fake homeless shelters were just warehouses for the mentally ill an drug addicts. I think that as the locals started having kids, they became more aware of the dangers.

      • dannyboy says:

        Ben, when you write: “I think that as the locals started having kids, they became more aware of the dangers.” you point that yours was the first generation to reproduce. I have to disagree.

        So maybe that is not the reason that that your first-generation locals are so intolerant. Try again.

    18. Miriam says:

      Interesting. Moving the shelter isn’t going to change the equation in the area and the two other buildings are not DHS street homeless shelters so why even mention them? (It sounds like discrimination against formerly homeless and those struck by disaster who don’t have deep enough pockets to find another place to live immediately). I suppose that not including that superfluous bit of information would make obvious that Mr. Biller’s protest is an attempt to seize the opportunity to finally do away with a shelter in his neighborhood. On another note, I’m curious about who the old provider was, and who the new one will be, though. Why are they not named?

    19. west sider too says:

      The tenants of the shelter (who are being moved) have made our sidewalks into their ‘social arena’. Walking through our neighborhood is extremely unpleasant and I feel threatened. Also having to inhale their constant clouds of pot and nicotine is dangerous for all residents of the neighborhood. ‘Moving them a block away will not change this. We want our neighborhood back. Give some other area a turn.

      • dannyboy says:

        “We want our neighborhood back.”

        Happy to hear of your good fortune to have a private neighborhood of your own. It’s yours, so get going.

        Who are the “We” that share that dream? I thought we were in NYC, Mr “west sider too”?

      • CjBerk says:

        yes indeed, the UWS is a dumping ground and we are all unhappy and threatened by the dirty streets, unhinged vagrants screaming and menacing and the general decay of the neighborhood. In a city this size with space to spare in many boroughs..WHY is everyone crammed into a once fine and quiet neighborhood? Whose brilliant idea is it to ruin our neighborhoods instead of helping by locating these shelters OUT OF THE MIDDLE OF MANHATTAN. Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island..plenty of space.

      • Frank says:

        It’s simple: We need to collectively stop voting for left wing radicals like Helen Rosenthal. We need to stop voting for people who are more concerned with national politics and grievance politics than fighting for and defending the neighborhood we share and pay a lot to live in, including an obscene amount of taxes.

        We are only getting what we asked for. We need a moderate representative that will advocate for our interests. Keep our streets clean and safe, keep our schools for the people the live here locally and stop making the UWS an attractive place for endless panhandling and loitering.

        Helen Rosenthal – #timesup

        • dannyboy says:

          “It’s simple: We need to collectively stop voting for left wing radicals like Helen Rosenthal.”

          Ah, the left-wing radical Democrats meme. Hey Frank, you do realize that you are reading the West Side Rag and not watching Fox News.

          Just checking.

          • Juan says:

            dannyboy – contrary to the misinformation you are constantly promoting here, there is a political continuum out there. You inaccurately and irresponsibly call anyone who disagrees with you a conservative. The issue is that you are so far to the extreme left. Most posters here and residents of the UWS are liberals, we are just more moderate than you are.

            It might be helpful for you to occasionally venture out of the UWS (since I know you love patronizing local businesses so much) and even better yet off the island of Manhattan. Meet some real Republicans and you will realize that we are not that bad.

            Also, for someone who is constantly posting about getting out and interacting with people (which is a noble goal), you seem to have a ton of time to be posting here dozens of times a day, attempting to drown out anyone else’s opinions. If you got out more and posted less the world would be a better place.

            • dannyboy says:

              I see that you had nothing to offer to the discussion of ‘Opponents Prepare for Tuesday Meeting As City Plans to Move Notorious Homeless Shelter One Block Away’ so rather than sharing your thoughts on this important topic, you decided that personal insults were the best you could do.

              Try the discussion, this is a neighborhood blog, you know.

            • Juan says:

              dannyboy:

              Pot. Kettle. Black.

              xoxoxo

              Juan

            • dannyboy says:

              Juan, after doing no commenting on Opponents Prepare for Tuesday Meeting As City Plans to Move Notorious Homeless Shelter One Block Away, which is the topic being discussed, you enter the conversation with: “You inaccurately and irresponsibly call anyone who disagrees with you a conservative.” But I don’t, so there’s that.

              But I do attempt to move the discussion. So, in that vein, would you like to reply to one of my posts with your thoughts? Here’s one for starters dannyboy says:
              December 3, 2018 at 1:43 pm
              I am trying my best to understand the suffering that homeless people who find housing cause.

              Is it that the street is no longer Private?

              Are you the real victims?

          • Frank says:

            Sorry I’m not a pure enough liberal for you. I’ll do better at censoring any thought I may have that doesn’t adhere to the purity council of radical leftwing groupthink.

            There will always be fringe elements and although Helen isn’t as far to the left as AOC (although she is cozying up to her) she has fallen further and further into the identity politics and grievances rabbit hole. Follow her Twitter and please let me know when she talks about the UWS or the community here. It’s just full of things not relevant to her political office or our neighborhood

            It’s gender grievances. It’s LGBT grievances. It’s Amazon grievances. It’s race grievances. It’s immigration grievances. It’s Trump grievances.

            Does she even have a solution to any problems or just virtue signaling grievances? Does she care about us – the people that elected her? We aren’t right wing. We believe in equality and liberal ideals. But she is becoming radicalized.

            https://twitter.com/HelenRosenthal

            • dannyboy says:

              Nice one, following up ““It’s simple: We need to collectively stop voting for left wing radicals” with: “I’ll do better at censoring any thought I may have that doesn’t adhere to the purity council of radical leftwing groupthink.”

              Got more slurs?

              And again, where is all this “radicals” jargon emanated?